Smog Hits Beijing

BEIJING, CHINA - OCTOBER 20: Jianwai SOHO is shrouded in smog on October 20, 2020 in Beijing, China. ... [+] (Photo by Jiang Qiming/China News Service via Getty Images)

China News Service via Getty Images

Soon after Covid-19 lockdowns began, in some places, you could see the change in the air. In northern India, the Himalayas, normally concealed by haze, became visible for the first time in years. Other regions experienced similar dramatic improvements, with decreases in air pollution revealing clear city skylines all over the world, from Wuhan to Los Angeles.

In a recent study, a group of researchers from the U.S. and Italy has attempted to quantify how many lives were saved during lockdowns in Europe and China due to this reprieve. They found that this major, though temporary, improvement in air quality and reduction in fine particle pollution has prevented thousands of deaths. The study, published in The Lancet Planetary Health, also shows how reopening scenarios and new outbreaks might affect future air pollution-related deaths.

According to the State of Global Air 2020 report, air pollution was the fourth leading risk factor for early death last year, following dietary risks, tobacco and hypertension. Exposure to unhealthy levels of air pollutants over the years has been shown to lead to cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, diseases largely responsible for air pollution-related premature deaths. Even short-term exposure, over the course of days, can lead to or worsen allergies, asthma, and respiratory diseases. For those with heart disease, it can lead to arrhythmias, heart attacks and death.

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